By Bill Koley
It's important to have the right equipment when shooting nature and wildlife photography, but there's so much more you need to know before setting foot in the scene!
1. Study the subject you wish to capture.
Try to learn the habits of the wildlife you are attempting to photograph. From your local library to the Internet, such information is often readily available. It's rather difficult to decide you'll go out and shoot the cranes without knowing where they are, what time of year to capture them, and where they habitat. Better wildlife photography begins by knowing your subject!
2. Look for local spots near your own hometown to find wildlife photo opportunities.
You are never likely to be without a nearby location where animals can be found. Nature centers, zoos, wildlife reserves, wildlife management areas, national parks, and even your own neighborhood can be teaming with potential subjects! Need inspiration on where to go? Here is a list of locations for you in Omaha and Lincoln that we love to visit for photography. Check it out here.
3. You probably will use your strongest power telephoto lens most often.
It is most common in wildlife photography that you cannot get "close enough” to your subject at times based on your selection of lenses if you are limited to 200mm or less. But that factor can be subject dependent. The closer you can safely be to your subject the better, but some subject matter observations may have rules. The best examples are the bald eagles. There are federal laws to observe when viewing these animals in regards to the proper distance of viewing them without being too close and these can be found at local wildlife agencies or online. So if you can afford a stronger lens, go for it.
4. Dress less to impress...and more to be ignored.
It's best to never dress flashy when pursuing wildlife in photography. It can be a lot like hunting--you do not want to be an animal's center of attention most times. Dress to blend in more than stand out. Your subjects are more likely to ignore you if they cannot see you as a potential threat. Environmentally dependent, where you photograph from and how you dress can determine how close you're able to get. It's best to hide yourself--your human shape--from the animal as much as possible.
5. Stability is the key to satisfaction.
The result of any quality wildlife photography is determined by how stable the platform of your lens and camera remains as you photograph. Proper handheld techniques, tripods, bipods, or monopods will greatly impact the quality of your images and how you think of shooting your subject. Sharp images and eye-catching images generally go hand-in-hand with proper stabilizing techniques. Three points of contact for balancing the camera and lens are minimal for handheld use:
- Elbows against your sides
- Feet well balanced and spread at shoulder-width, with one slightly forward and one back like a boxer
- Proper hand placement on camera and lens: left hand cupping under the barrel, not to the side, and right hand securely grasping the camera grip with the camera set to a continuous autofocus setting to track the subject’s movement
Bonus Tip - Camera Operation
The sports and action mode is easy to use, but you have very little control if you want a change a setting. Here is quick overview of some different settings that can be used with your camera.
Program, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority
These modes are semi-automatic and allow for more control over camera settings.
Autofocus can be helpful for refocusing on a moving subject such as a bird in flight. It can also be used to lock focus with stationary subjects such as a landscape.
This mode gives you the most control over your shot, however this setting requires the most knowledge and practice.
Obviously, there's more to shooting better wildlife photography than what we've listed here. We're happy to help you with other tips and tricks in the store, or set up a one-on-one photography session with one of our instructors!